Richard, 7th Viscount Fitswilliam, did not much care for drawings.
When he died in 1816, he left 100,000 pounds, and all his Rembrandt etchings, his medieval manuscripts, his paintings, woodcuts and engravings - but scarely any drawings - to the University museum there that bears his name.
Drawings, after all, are acquired taste. Less decorative than paintings, more tentative than prints, they leave some collectors cold. "European drawings From the Fitzwilliam." the loan show now on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art, is the sort of exhibition that might have changed his mind.
It includes 125 drawings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Fragonard, Ingres and Cezanne. It is not a survey show, its only theme is quality. Is is one of the most beautiful exhibits the Baltimore museum has ever placed on view.
That is, if one liked drawings. Many of these sheets are sketchy, faded, small.
Each one seems to open its own special world. What pose should the Virgin take, we see Federico Barocci ask himself, should she bend right or left? Quick, a few penned lines to catch the expression of that peasant, the muscles of that athelete, the glinch of light on water. How does II Guercino foreshorten the chariot on the ceilings?
THese are not finished works. They show the masters thinking, discovering, discarding, moving towards, but not always achieving, the goals they had in mind.
Some are precisionists, Ingres, for example. Some are wildly improvising, look at the late Titian. Rembrandt is, at the same instant, completely free, completely precise. As his pen skips across the paper it leaves behind a landscape, the hazy distance, sky.
Though Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam, left the University dew drawings, that gap in his collection has since been beautifully filled. Michael Jaffe, the Fitzwilliam's director, writes that the intended "to send across the Atlantic the worthiest possible selection of our drawings." One doubts that he has kept at home finer works than these.
The show is full of vision, of heroes, saints and angels, of horses and great trees, of country lanes and monsters, patriarchs and young Englishmen abroad.
The galleries in Baltimore are intentionally dim - bright light bleaches drawings - and as the viewer moves from the 16th century to the 19th, from Italy to France and Holland, he is given glimpses, more suggestive than specific, of the gradual development of European art.
One is tempted to pick favourites, the Ingres, the Cezanne, II Guercino's chariot pulled by dragons, Jan Both's large oak tree, that Tiepolo, that Rembrandt - but no sooner does one choose than the next drawing in line seduces one again.
The Fitzwilliam exhibition is travelling under the auspices of Washington's International Exihibitions Foundation. Annemarie H. Pope, who heads that organization, usually arranges beautiful illustrated catalogs to accompany her shows, as she has done here. If this exhibition has a flaw, it is only that the catalog is escessively academic. The interested reader will learn more than he would want to know about who owned the drawings, what autions they were sold in, what scholars have discussed them, and not nearly enough about the artists represented, or about the iconography of the works displayed. The title of that awesome drawing by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, II Guercino (1591-1666) is "Armida Carrying Off the Sleeping Rinaldo in Her Chariot," but the questions that arise - who was Armida? who Rinaldo? where are they going drawn by dragons - are not answered. Instead, we are referred to "Gerusalemme Liberata," a book most viewers do not have readily at hand. Otherwise this show is moving as can be. It will be on view in Baltimore through June 5.